Do you speak the peculiarly nationalistic language of biscuits? Well, the first thing is to know the difference between a biscuit and a cookie. Biscuits are small baked items that look and sometimes taste like what an American would call a cookie.
But make no mistake, a biscuit is not a cookie. A cookie is meant to be eaten and enjoyed. A biscuit on the other hand is a test. Who has offered it to you, how they have offered it, and most importantly what type of biscuit they have offered to you are cultural touch-points that are as important to your social survival in Britain as knowing the difference the “walk” and “don’t walk” symbols when attempting to cross the road.
Here is a guide to British biscuits, and what it means when you are offered one.
What is it?
What it means…
|It’s a biscuit, filled with currants or raisins.||The home-made versions of these can be pretty good, soft and tasty. But absolutely no one likes the dry, store-bought versions of these things, which of course guarantees that these are the most commonly-found biscuits in the whole goddamned country, there are millions of Garibaldis filling up the bottom of biscuit tins throughout the UK. Offering someone a Garibaldi is a distinctly British way of saying: “Fuck you, I hate you. Have one of these shitty biscuits.”|
|A very plain and common biscuit||“We couldn’t be bothered.” This is the dullest of biscuits. No one likes it particularly, but no one can be bothered to hate it either. It’s very much a “filler” biscuit. Offering someone a malted milk is the equivalent of saying “I don’t remember your name, but you strike me as a bit of a loser. Here is a biscuit appropriate to your station in life.”|
|Flavourless and dry- half biscuit, half cracker.||Rich teas recently ranked in a poll as the least-popular biscuit in the UK. This is a dull biscuit, and it is often offered more as a matter of form, rather than with the expectation that anyone will eat one. Inoffensive and forgettable. If someone offers you one, you should decline, but not be offended.|
|It’s a sweeter version of a rich tea biscuit.||A digestive is better than it sounds and better than it looks. It ain’t great, but it’s the first biscuit on our list so far which you may want to consider eating. Perfect with a cuppa, someone who offers you a digestive is essentially testing to see if you are worthy of the respect of the tea-drinking tribes of Great Britain.|
|Buttery, dry and crumbly||Like the digestive, best with tea, and better-tasting than you might think. This is meant to be a more civilised kind of biscuit, offered in hotel rooms, and occasionally in a tin as a gift. Very much the kind of biscuit your nan would offer you.|
|Oaty and sweet||Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Hobnobs, like shortbread and digestives, may not look like much, but they are what the British call “more-ish,” which means basically you’ll be stuffing your gob with these once you’ve had one. Being offered a hobnob is equivalent to: “Hey mate, want to share in some oaty goodness?” Of course you do.|
|Sweet and delicate, sometimes pink and sometimes covered in chocolate.||These are the wild-cards of biscuits, in fact they may not even be biscuits at all. But I’ve included them here because they signify something. Wafers are strong indicators of socio-economic class. Pink means working, chocolate-covered means middle or upper. You MUST accept a wafer when it is offered to you, otherwise class warfare could ensue. “Oh, too good for a pink wafer are we? I’ll just smash you in the eye with my shovel what I work with all day and see if you’re too good then!” or “Hmph, I’m not at all surprised someone of your standing should find this chocolate-covered wafer to be perhaps a bit intimidating. It is European after all. Please leave my spacious home at once.” Both scenarios have really happened to me. Beware.|
|Chocolate-coloured but not very chocolatey-flavoured||In many ways, these are the opposite of digestives, shortbread and hobnobs, in that they look like they will be tasty, but are in fact invariably disappointing. But for some reason, Bourbon cookies hold a small amount of prestige, and being offered one is meant to be an act of kindness. “Here, have a bourbon biscuit, you’ll like it.” You won’t.|
|Vanilla-flavoured||These are the biscuits that will disappear the fastest from the tin. Everyone likes them, and the competition for these within an office is so fierce, that if someone offers you one, it’s their way of saying: “You know what- I like you. If it came down to a zombie apocalypse, I hope you and I both survive the first waves of devastation.”|
|Soft and chocolatey with a strong orange flavour||Despite the name, very much seen as a biscuit. A strange melange of flavours, these are an acquired taste for an American, but are universally loved by the Brits. Being offered a Jaffa cake is an act of intimacy, or at least it’s as intimate an act as a British person is capable of when sober. You should accept and thank the person. They love you, but they can never ever say so out loud.|
|Crumbly and sweet- filled with a thin layer of strawberry jam.||I don’t really know what it means when someone offers you a jammy dodger. I’ve never been offered one. Each one I’ve eaten, I’ve had to buy for myself. I’ve also never offered one to anyone, not even my own child. And I never will.|
I had a dream once that someone offered me a jammy dodger. It was a variation of the monocled and top-hatted Mr Monopoly from the game. In this vision he told me: “Here, have a jammy dodger, you’ve earned it.” I looked at him through tear-stained eyes, slowly reached out and accepted the biscuit, whispering to myself, “yes i have, yes I have.”
2 thoughts on “What it means when you’re offered a biscuit. (Spoiler- it means a lot)”
Billy, admirable taxonomy. You do know that Garibaldi biscuits are also known as squashed fly biscuits? And how can you omit the chocolate digestive (oh, the class connotations of the choice between milk and plain) and the ginger nut?
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